About 20,000 pensioners are to lose their full medical card and have it replaced with a GP-only card, it has emerged.
The measure is being introduced as part of €781m savings in next year’s health budget, announced yesterday by Health Minister Dr James Reilly.
Losing their medical card will be those over the age of 70 with a weekly income of €600-€700 and €1,200-€1,400 for a couple.
At a press conference in Government Buildings last night, Dr Reilly said 92% of people over the age of 70 would retain their medical card while 5% would qualify for GP visit cards.
He said the remaining 3% — the wealthiest of those over 70, whose income was higher than €700 a week, or €1,400 for a couple — did not qualify for a medical card at the moment so there would be no change for them.
The minister also confirmed that there would be a tightening of the eligibility criteria for the medical card and details would be outlined in the HSE’s service plan next year.
It was also revealed that the nursing homes support scheme — a Fair Deal that began providing financial support for people assessed as needing long-term nursing home care is also being changed.
Currently, the loan is paid after death with a levy of up to 15% on the person’s estate over three years. The levy is now being increased to 22.5% over the same period.
The change will require amending legislation expected to be introduced next year.
At a press conference in Government Buildings last night, Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, said they were also examining the Fair Deal scheme to see if it could be used by older people to access community services rather than going into long-term care.
Ms Lynch also confirmed that an additional €35m would be made available next year for the continued development of mental health services.
She said the “new” funding demonstrated the Government’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable.
Dr Reilly, who once said he wanted to scrap the prescription charge for medical card holders, defended the decision to almost treble it in the budget.
The charge is being increased from 50c to €1.50 per item, with the monthly cap for a family being increased from €10 to €19.50.
“Given the financial situation we find ourselves in and given the alternatives, we did not have much choice,” he said.
Dr Reilly said he intended introducing a number of initiatives early next year to encourage more cost-effective prescribing.
“There are some drugs that are three times the cost of their cheapest generic equivalent,” he said.
He said the new agreement with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association would provide savings in excess of €400m over the next three years.
“This will mean significant reductions for patients in the cost of drugs, as well as a reduction in the drugs bill to the State.”
Dr Reilly pledged that the maintenance of health services would be a key priority next year despite the need for significant savings but admitted that the year ahead would pose “great difficulties”.
“The primary aim is to cut the cost of services and not the services themselves,” he said.
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